Thursday, July 07, 2005

Laksa Lemak

Last night, W called to ask if I could make him some laksa lemak, one of his all-time local favourites. He's back today for a very brief spell before taking off again, so it goes without saying that I obliged. Laksa exists in countless incarnations throughout the Malay Peninsula - Sarawak, Malacca, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Johor, and of course Singapore, each have their own tasty version. Extravagantly enriched with coconut milk, laksa lemak is the version most commonly found across the length and breath of our island (and particularly in the Katong area, but that's another anecdote altogether...). Influenced by my maternal grandmother - who was, incidentally, as formidable a cook as the paternal grandmother who brought me up - the laksa lemak I make is Nonya in style. The recipe is hers, except that she would have made her own fish balls using ikan tenggiri (I've used ready-made fried fishcakes) and extracted her own coconut milk using freshly grated coconut (instead, I turn to the stall at Tekka Market which sells freshly extracted coconut milk).


Prawn Stock
20 large tiger prawns
1Tbsp peanut oil
1.5 liters water

15 shallots, peeled and minced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
10 to 15 dried red chillies, deseeded, soaked till soft, drained and minced
10 candlenuts, chopped
3 lemongrass stalks, tender inner stems only, minced
Fresh tumeric, 1 thumb-length piece, peeled and minced
Galangal, 1 thumb-length piece, peeled and minced
1Tbsp belachan (shrimp paste)
2 Tbsp coriander seeds

4Tbsp dried shrimp, soaked till soft and drained
6Tbsp peanut oil
600ml coconut milk, preferably fresh
1Tbsp salt, or more

2Tbsp gula melaka (palm sugar), or more

500gm fresh laksa noodles, or thick vermicelli

20 raw prawns, shelled and de-veined (left from making prawn stock)
Large handful of beansprouts
2 fried fishcakes, sliced thickly
2 taupok (deep-fried tofu puffs) squares, sliced thickly
8 quail's eggs
Large handful of finely shredded cucumber
Handful of finely shredded laksa leaves (daun kesom)

To Serve: Sambal Goreng
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 candlenuts, chopped
10 shallots, peeled and minced
10 dried red chillies, soaked till soft and minced
1Tbsp tamarind pulp soaked in 100ml water
3Tbsp peanut oil
1Tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp salt
1Tbsp gula melaka (palm sugar)

For the prawn stock: Peel and de-vein the prawns. Set them aside. Only the heads and shells are needed for the stock. Heat the oil over a medium flame in a stockpot. Stir fry the prawn heads and shells till bright orange and slightly caramelised. Add the water and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and simmer gently for 1 hr. Strain and reserve.

For the rempah: Except for the shrimp paste and coriander seeds, pound all the ingredients for the spice paste according to the order listed with mortar and pestle. Ensure that each ingredient is thoroughly assimilated before adding the next. Wrap the shrimp paste in a small square of aluminium foil and toast it over a small flame in a dry pan until aromatic - about 2-3 minutes. Unwrap, add to spice paste, and incorporate. Toast the coriander seeds over a small flame in a dry pan until aromatic - about 60 seconds. Grind to a fine powder with a spice/coffee mill. Stir the ground coriander into the spice paste.

For the laksa broth: Grind the softened dried shrimp to a fine powdery consistency. Set aside. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium flame until fairly hot. Add the rempah and fry for about 10 minutes - be patient and stir constantly until the paste becomes thick, fragrant, several shades deeper, and the oil separates from the paste. When the paste is sufficiently cooked, add the ground dried shrimp. Stir for 1 minute. Add the reserved prawn stock, coconut milk, salt and palm sugar. Slowly bring to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for a few minutes, adjusting seasoning with more salt or sugar as needed. When broth tastes right, turn off heat, cover, and set aside.

Bring a big pot of water to a rolling boil. Scald laksa noodles for 15 to 30 seconds. Drain in colander and arrest cooking by placing under a running tap for a few minutes. Drain again and set aside. Using the same pot, bring some fresh water to a rolling boil. Blanch whole prawns until cooked, about 2 minutes. Lift out with a slotted spoon and split in half lengthwise. In the same water, scald bean sprouts, fishcake slices, and taupok slices in separate batches for 10 seconds each, lifting each out with a slotted spoon. Set aside. Place the quail's eggs in a small pan of salted cold water. Bring to a boil over brisk heat and boil for 1 minute before draining and cooling under a running cold tap. Shell carefully. Cucumber and laksa leaves should be shredded as close to your serving time as possible.

For the sambal goreng (this can be made several days in advance): Pound the garlic with mortar and pestle to a pulp. Pounding each ingredient till incorporated before adding the next, pound the candlenuts, shallots and chillies. Set paste aside. Strain the tamarind water; reserve the liquid and discard the seeds left in sieve. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat till fairly hot. Add reserved paste, turn heat down to low, and slowly fry for about 10 minutes until thickened, a deep ruddy brown, and the oil separates from the paste. Be patient; the spices must be adequately cooked to mellow and lose their raw taste. Now add the reserved tamarind water, tomato paste, salt and sugar. Stir constantly over a low heat until reduced to a jammy consistency, adjusting seasoning to taste. Scrape into a bowl. Cool. Chill till needed.

To serve: Portion noodles and beansprouts between deep bowls. Top each bowl with prawns, fishcake, taupok, quail's eggs, and cucumber. Bring laksa broth to the boil. Ladle boiling broth into waiting bowls. Scatter the shredded laksa leaves on top and serve immediately. Let diners help themselves to the sambal.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hiya J,

Scrumptious! Do we assume this makes healthy portions for 2? ;)

3:15 pm, July 08, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

thanks! oops, forgot to indicate that ;) actually, it would generously feed four hearty appetites...but one of us typically eats for two, and then some...

3:57 pm, July 08, 2005  
Blogger Unknown said...

too lazy to make my own but your pic has created a yearn for laksa - looks like I'll be hitting Katong this evening in search of that bowl of steaming hot laksa!

4:51 pm, July 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, the proofreader in me proves difficult to ignore...the real question, really, was whether there are leftovers we can beg off you ;P I'm getting the impression that there aren't any.

BTW there is a lady in Tekka who makes her own fishcakes daily.

5:10 pm, July 08, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi eatzycath, thanks! curious to know which stall in katong you like? cheers,j

unfortunately not ;) next time i make some (which should be in the not-too-distant future...) i'll make extra...thanks for fishcake tip; the ones i got are from a pretty good stall in farrer mkt courtesy of my mum

6:02 pm, July 08, 2005  
Blogger Jocelyn:McAuliflower said...

amazing picture- your balance of light shadow really brings out the play of colors in your setting. Gorgeous!

Also a wonderful recipe... I'm making its recreation a must-do item on my list of what to make as soon as I get some good prawns.

1:53 am, July 10, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi mcauliflower, thanks! you're very kind. hope you get round to making the laksa - it's one of our favourite things to eat...

10:39 am, July 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J - you're torturing me! I want to eat this now! I love laksa and will definitely try this recipe, sounds wonderful. And your photo is absolutely gorgeous, as always.

10:30 pm, July 14, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi keiko, you're very kind, as always. hope you have fun making the laksa; i did! cheers,j

1:12 am, July 15, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

beautiful! love the quail's eggs


2:21 am, July 24, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never tasted Laksa but I've been schlepping a recipe for it for years! Yours looks so delicious that it's getting me motivated to finally try my hand, though I suspect my recipe might have half the amount of ingredients as yours... ;)

4:12 am, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I return to Singapore I would go to the Kuan Imm Temple at Waterloo Road for Laksa every morning and afternoon until I fly off again. I really would like the recipe, as close to the real thing as possible. If someone would kindly send it to me I would be thankful. I cook everyday for my family, so I can improvise. my email is
Thank you.

9:56 am, January 03, 2007  
Blogger the86Kid said...

Hey nice recipe and photos! I love a good laksa, I'm putting my ultimate laksa guide together atm. Be sure to check it out I really love going to Singapore and getting amoungst the street stalls and trying all the great food. Keep up the good work.

11:20 am, March 09, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best recipe and the most authentic by far!! Thank you.

1:21 am, April 20, 2011  

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